Movie review: ‘Fantabulous’ fun with Harley Quinn in ‘Birds of Prey’
Breakups are hard, even for Harley Quinn, the queen of colorful chaos. Finally realizing she was the “brains behind Mistah J,” she’s kicked her murderous beau, Joker, to the curb and now must get her groove back. First, however, she’ll succumb to some of the usual post-split potholes. She might be an antiheroine on the rebound, but deep down she’s just like us! She wallows, pretends she doesn’t care, binge drinks, chops her hair, adopts a dog (and names it Bruce, get it?) and ingests string cheese straight out of the can … until it’s time for Gotham City to meet the new Harley Quinn.
That’s basically the set up for “Birds of Prey (And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn),” the spinoff from 2016’s “Suicide Squad.” As that train wreck’s standout, Margot Robbie played Harley with such vim and vigor that a solo outing was not just craved, but demanded. Now, we have it, and Robbie casts Harley in a shine even brighter after ejecting “Puddin” from her life.
As such, “Birds of Prey” is a total trip, held together by Robbie and a badass team of women bent on taking down Gotham’s villain du jour, Roman Sionis, aka Black Mask. As the bad guy, Ewan McGregor rocks, infusing Roman with a mix of giddy flamboyance and menace. Comic-book movies are only as good as their villains and he’s formidable.
Director Cathy Yan (“Dead Pigs”), working from a script by Christina Hodson (“Bumblebee”), immediately catches us up on Harley’s personal history with an animated bit depicting how she made the transformations from Harleen Quinzell to Joker’s main squeeze to Gotham City singleton with a target on her back. She’s wronged a lot of nasty folks and they want vengeance.
Yan and Hodson also toss us into the confusing scrum of competing storylines. Copying a page from “Deadpool,” Harley narrates her own story, albeit a narrative messily jumping around in time. It involves organized crime families, bank codes and a diamond worth $35,000. Her counter is to team up with Huntress (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), Black Canary (Jurnee Smollett-Bell) and jaded cop Renee Montoya (Rosie Perez), to rescue foster child Cassandra Cain (Ella Jay Basco) from Roman and his bleached-blond henchman (Chris Messina).
To her credit, Yan serves comic-book lovers (they hooted and hollered during pivotal moments) and casual fans equally. It’s cool how the story unfolds within the DC universe, (you’ll notice Arkham Asylum, A.C.E. Chemicals, Founders Pier) yet tells a tale all its own. That narrative, however baffling, is fortified with intense performances by actors game for anything. And they’re clearly having a blast.
Cheers, too, to the over-the-top action scenes. They’re inventive and full of bone-crunching fight sequences, some on roller skates, some with confetti bombs and glitter guns, others in the funhouse on Amusement Mile. It’s all frivolous fun sprinkled with a recurring theme of female independence that seems well ahead of its time.
Dana Barbuto may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter @dbarbuto_Ledger.
“Birds of Prey”
Cast: Margot Robbie, Ewan McGregor, Jurnee Smollett-Bell, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Rosie Perez, Ella Jay Basco, Chris Messina.
(R for strong violence and language throughout, and some sexual and drug material.)